I still remember the first time I got called to the principal’s office. I guess most people do. I was eleven, and my buddy Ray and I had been lighting off Black Cats in the staff parking lot. Ray was always quicker… he got away. Me? I got grabbed by Mrs. Wilkinson and marched off.
But yeah… that sinking feeling in your gut. Like you just reached the top of the biggest roller coaster you can imagine and then the car starts plummeting down like twenty floors. That was the feeling. And I was getting it again sitting outside the Deputy Director’s office. Waiting. Wondering what part of the fifteen-page expense report I’d managed to screw up.
Nell, bless her little Meerkat heart, hadn’t been any help. She’d just handed me the plane ticket and hotel reservation with that smile of hers that can mean you won the lottery or you’re about to get surf and turf for your last meal.
“You have an appointment first thing in the morning, Deeks. The address is in with the travel information.”
Then she’d turned and scurried off to wherever it is Nell goes after she delivers that kind of news. And she does scurry. Thinking about it made me smile, and the roller coaster slowed down just a hair.
Wearing a suit didn’t help, but I could pull it off. Had to enough times in court. At least I wouldn’t be squirming and straining like Beale. That was another trick I’d learned. Think of the funny stuff and the roller coaster slows down even more.
I’d just had time to leave a note for Kensi. She was off at some ninja refresher training somewhere, which had been bad before but was good now. I didn’t want to try to explain something to her I didn’t understand myself. And she could always yell at Nell.
Something buzzed on the receptionist’s desk, and I gotta say I jumped a bit. Aside from my hyperventilating it had been quiet as a church on Tuesday in the office. At least she was nice enough to ignore my flinch.
“The Deputy Director will see you now, Investigator Deeks.”
I smiled in spite of myself. Investigator. The title still stuck in my throat. FLETC was like a fading nightmare in my mind, but I knew I should have done better. And I had to wonder how much the outcome had to do with Henrietta Lange. Too many things didn’t add up. But at least I had a job. Gotta think positive.
I hadn’t seen Deputy Director Louis Ochoa since he’d left the L.A. office, and honestly I hadn’t expected to ever see him again. He got up from behind a desk as big as the bar in my bar back home and came around to shake my hand. Suddenly the roller coaster was running again, but at double speed.
“Good of you to come, Investigator Deeks. Can I get you anything? Coffee?”
“Uh… yeah. Coffee would be great. Thanks.” Smooth, Deeks. Stumble over your own words, why don’t you?
He had a strong handshake, but not the soul-crusher that was Granger’s. I’d never noticed before, but he and Granger had the same kind of eyes. Hard and strong, but with a concern for their people you’d miss unless you were looking for it.
“I’ll get us both some. Have a seat.”
I knew it was a ploy to set me at ease. I’d done it enough times myself both meeting with clients as a public defender and later as a cop starting an interrogation. Come to think of it, they were all interrogations. Maybe this was, too. I started running through everything I’d done in the last six months. Was there anything…
“I hope you don’t mind black coffee. Old habits…”
“No, that’s fine… Deputy Director.” Great. Trip over the damned job title. “I lived on the stuff back when I was a detective.”
Nodding, he set a cup on the low table and sat down in a chair across from me. I started breathing again. If it was something bad he would have moved back behind the desk. Positions of authority and all that.
“I expect you’re wondering why you were called back to D.C.?”
“Something like that.”
Whoever brewed his coffee knew their stuff. It was smooth, not bitter like the burned ash that was all the rage.
“Nell… I mean… well… Nell didn’t say much.”
Ochoa nodded and grinned around the rim of his cup. “She can’t say what she doesn’t know.”
He paused and shifted a bit. I couldn’t tell if he was looking out the window or at one of the prints on the office wall.
“I’ve been meaning to ask… what happened at FLETC?”
And there it was. “Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, I thought I was kicking it in the classroom, and then the scores came out. And the runs… I just…”
“But you stuck with it. I know others who would have quit.”
“Yeah.” I took another sip of coffee, trying to wrangle my thoughts. It wasn’t working. “I couldn’t quit, though. I needed to finish it. To prove something to myself.”
“Not the rest of your team? Special Agent Blye?”
“I mean… yeah. That was important, too. But I have this thing about finishing what I start.”
“And not getting special agent?”
I’d been waiting for this one. “It’s a position, right? And if one wasn’t open, I couldn’t get it, right? At least not if I wanted to stay in L.A.” I shook my head.
“It bugged me at first, sure. But then I realized I hadn’t actually applied for a position. Which means someone did it for me.”
I was suspecting Hetty. Again.
“That’s right. But it wasn’t Operations Manager Lange who arranged it.” He smiled as he saw the surprise on my face. “I know. Any time anything happens in OSP it’s the work of Henrietta Lange. But this time it wasn’t. She’s likely aware of it, but it wasn’t her doing.”
He chuckled. “And I bet that annoys the hell out of her.”
He set his cup down. “First, we need to back up a little bit. As you know, the director sent me to Los Angeles to evaluate the OSP team. What you don’t know is I was also tasked with evaluating each member of the team for leadership potential, among other things.”
“Sure.” It made sense. After all, we did make a huge mess sometimes with explosions and mayhem. And there was the whole Mosley-sponsored field trip to Mexico. I forced a grin on my face. Some nights I still saw Harley Hidoko…
“And yes, I did read your report about Mosley’s conduct with the prisoner.” I noticed he never used her title. “Excellent work, by the way.”
“That stuff never ends well.” I thought back to the adobe building in Afghanistan and my one trip across the line I swore I’d never cross. “Never.”
“I know. I read Assistant Director Granger’s report on the White Ghost affair.”
“Yeah. No one came out of that with clean hands.”
Waterboarding the old guy was one of the few regrets I carried with me. Real regrets, not the ‘I missed the McRib when they released it again’ regrets.
“One of the things I learned while evaluating your team is that Assistant Director Granger was right about many things.”
I watched him turn again, and my good ol’ detective side kicked in. It wasn’t the first time Ochoa hid his eyes from me when he was about to say something important.
“He predicted Hetty would try to ruin your chances at FLETC.”
“But she pulled strings to make sure I graduated!” I almost came out of my chair, but that detective corner of my mind started whispering again.
“She let you think that, yes.”
Now it was starting to make sense. She’d offered me the transfer paperwork years ago, and I’d declined it. Maybe I was young and stubborn, but I wanted to make it into NCIS on my own merits, not because Hetty pulled strings. I’d never considered she might take that wrong, and try to get back at me years later.
“So you’re saying she cooked the books?”
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is never to underestimate how long Henrietta Lange’s reach is.” There was that smile again. “Or her memory. But Assistant Director Granger planned for that. I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet who knew her as well as he did.”
“You keep mentioning Granger. Just what did he have to do with all this?”
“Everything.” Ochoa went back behind the acre of walnut that passed for his desk and pulled out a folder. “This was his proposal. He sent it to the director after Operation Center Stage.”
I gave him a tight-lipped smile. Center Stage. Cute name for one of the worst times of my life. I still snapped awake some nights, thinking I heard the whine of that damned drill by my ear.
“Now that’s a trip down memory lane I did not need.”
“I’m sure. The first part is his initial recommendation. The second part came just before he died. After the whole mole incident.”
All I could do was nod. Carl died too easily, given the damage he’d caused. Most days I’m a pretty easy-going guy. Live and let live. Ride the waves. All that. But Carl…there was a special place in hell for him, and I hoped he wasn’t enjoying it.
“Granger recommended sending you to FLETC, and anticipated Hetty would put obstacles in your path. Which is why he created an investigator position for OSP but never officially opened it. That didn’t happen until just before you graduated. He wanted to make sure you had a place to land… one Hetty wouldn’t suspect or control.”
Things were starting to fall into place, and I can’t say I liked how the puzzle was starting to take shape.
“So he wanted me to spy on Hetty.”
“No. Nothing like that. Assistant Director Granger felt we needed some sort of investigative body. Something working with but apart from the Inspector General. Someone who could assess a team, especially their conduct on operations. Someone who wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions and wouldn’t back down from authority.”
“Now none of that describes me at all.” I’d had enough bad experiences with LAPD’s Internal Affairs witch hunters and didn’t like how this sounded. “I’m not cut out to be IA.”
“No one’s asking you to. What we need is an evaluator. Someone who can look at a team and keep them on the right path. Someone who isn’t afraid to report back to me with bad news. And someone who can evaluate their leadership as well.” Ochoa looked at the folder again. “Owen Granger thought you were the man for the job. Without question. I think he’d planned to talk with you about it, but…”
His voice trailed off, and I couldn’t find mine. Callen had told me about Granger’s last days, spent with the North Korean spy/daughter he’d never known he had. I never told him, but I’d gone out to that tree a couple of times. It felt like he was there, out in the wind looking out over the valley. Even Kensi didn’t know about those trips.
“I know he meant a great deal to you, Deeks.”
“Yeah. Not at first, but he kinda grew on you. And once you earned his respect…”
“Yes.” Ochoa looked up, and his dark eyes looked even more like Granger’s. “You’d report directly to me, and the director if the need arises. No one on your team could know. Not even Special Agent Blye.”
More secrets. I didn’t like the idea of Kensi not knowing. Until I remembered the fiancé I’d never heard about. Or some of Sam and Callen’s little moments. Secrets were like breathing if you were with OSP… when they stopped, you died. But I had to know.
“And if I don’t want it?”
“You go back to your team and life goes on. Don’t worry, Deeks. There’s no cost for refusal. But I want you to understand this is something Assistant Director Granger felt strongly about… something he convinced the director NCIS needs. And you were his first and only choice. And having seen you in action with your team, you’re my first and only choice as well. Whatever that’s worth.”
I looked down at my empty cup. No tea leaves, so no fortune to be had. But I’d never been very good with fortunes. Still…
“What about Mosley? Would she have been left on the job if this position existed then?”
Ochoa gave me another of his thin smiles. “If you’d been sent to evaluate her? And reported back what you’d seen? No. She would have been reassigned. At least. Our view at this level is often clouded. Granger knew that. You would be our eyes. Our ears. And, I suppose, our conscience.”
He had me there, but I guessed he knew that. Never kid a kidder or con a con man and all that stuff.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the day. I know there was stuff signed, special credentials issued, and files read. The whole time Ochoa was my shadow. Maybe he was afraid I’d have second thoughts and run off. I know we went over how things would work. I’d still be in L.A., working with OSP unless something came up. Then I’d be off on special ninja training or something. The cover would work with Sam and Callen. They were both convinced I needed all the “special” training I could get.
Kensi… she’d be a tougher sell. But I did know one thing: the more I learned about this, the more important it was becoming to me. If it could save just one team from a Carl or a Mexico, it would all be worth it. I guess I’ve got issues when it comes to wanting to do the right thing, and she’d have to make room for that.
It was almost dark outside when he closed the last file with a snap.
“Just one thing left,” he said in a voice suddenly weary. Reaching into his desk, he pulled out a sealed envelope. “I’d open it in your hotel room. You’ll fly back in the morning. It’s been arranged.”
He shook my hand again. “Thank you, Investigator Deeks. You made a hard decision today, but I think you made the right one.”
The way he said it, investigator didn’t feel like a slap in the face any more.
“Thanks. I think I made the right decision, too.” I paused. “Now, do I call you Executive Director or…”
He chuckled. “Granger said you’d ask me that. No, I think we’ll be good with Ochoa and Deeks. Don’t you?”
The envelope was plain, with nothing on the outside except for three typed letters: MAD. I always laughed when I saw my initials like that. Seeing that strange light in his eyes again, I tucked it into my jacket and didn’t pull it out again until after we’d eaten and I was alone in my hotel room. It wasn’t much… one of those fancy no-tell motel jobs near the airport. But the sheets were clean, the TV worked, and there were no snakes or cockroaches. No, I’m not picky about hotels.
I don’t know what I’d expected in that envelope, but it certainly wasn’t what I found. The words had been written by hand on a single sheet of paper. By the fourth word my chest was tight, and I think I actually started crying before I finished the first paragraph. I’ve re-read it many times since, and can almost recite the thing by heart:
Deeks, if you’re reading this it means I’m dead and can’t explain things in person. Damned shame. You deserve better. No, you’ve earned better.
I picked you for this because you have character. Lots of character. I don’t know many men who’d take the torture you did and not break, especially when you were covering for someone who said you lack character. The whole team crapped on you for over a year and you powered on. That takes guts. And more than guts… it takes character.
I know about your troubles with LAPD, and that was another mark in your favor. You protected the people who trusted you, and weren’t afraid to call out the bastards hiding behind badges. And even shoot one of them who went too far.
Hetty thought she could control you, but I knew better. You control you, and answer only to yourself. There’s a power there… a strength there too many miss. But it makes you perfect for this job.
NCIS is a great organization, but like all organizations bad apples get in. I’d hoped to work with you to get them out, but that’s not in the cards if you’re reading this. The director’s a good man, and if he put Louis Ochoa in charge of you that’s even better. Ochoa’s a good man. You can trust him.
I want to thank you for taking this on. It won’t be easy, but I can promise you it’s worth it. My only regret is I can’t be there to work with you. Follow your gut and trust your instincts. And never let the bastards win.
This fanfic is dedicated in memory of Miguel Ferrer.